When Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski gave two-time All-Met Josh Hairston his first career start Thursday night, Seth Greenberg thought he saw an opening for freshman Dorian Finney-Smith. The Hokies’ coach figured his highly touted prospect, mired in an extended shooting slump, could take Hairston off the dribble.
But on the opening possession of Virginia Tech’s 75-60 loss to the Blue Devils, Finney-Smith missed a floater in the lane and the ensuing put-back attempt. Next time down the floor, he drove into the lane and turned over the ball on an errant wrap-around pass.
“I don’t even think he wanted to shoot it,” Greenberg said.
There wasn’t a third time, as Finney-Smith soon picked up two fouls and was relegated to the bench until the end of the half. And so, the confounding struggles of the best prospect to come through Blacksburg in quite some time continued.
After going 0 for 4 and finishing without a point for the fifth time in eight games Thursday, Finney-Smith has missed 25 consecutive shots and hasn’t gotten a field goal since the Hokies’ loss to Florida State back on Jan. 10. Following the game, Greenberg explained that Finney-Smith’s issues are perhaps more fundamental – and more extensive – than anyone imagined. Turns out the 6-foot-8 forward is in the middle of a complete overhaul to his shot.
“Quite honestly, I’m working one-on-one with Doe-Doe right now. We’re changing his shot,” said Greenberg, referencing Finney-Smith by his childhood nickname. “It’s 100 percent my fault. He was making some shots early so we ignored [it]. It’s like a quarterback. He’s making some completions, so you don’t want to mess with his release. Tim Tebow won a lot of games at Florida, but nobody really changed his release, so when he went up to another level, even from preseason games to ACC, it’s exposed.
“It’s going to take a long time for us to get that straight. That one’s on me, because I knew better. It was fool’s gold, as I said to our staff, and instead of addressing [it] right away, he played through it. . . . He can’t catch a break, the poor guy. He had an offensive rebound, went right through his hands.”
These sorts of issues are perhaps even more troubling than Virginia Tech’s string of losses over the past month. It was easy to see Thursday night that Finney-Smith’s confidence is shot, and everyone who stayed at Cassell Coliseum for the waning moments of the Duke loss was hoping he’d get a garbage-time basket to end this ignominious streak of missed shots.
It’s unlikely the Portsmouth, Va., native has ever gone through anything like this before considering he’s the two-time reigning player of the year in the state of Virginia and was named a third-team all-American by USA Today a year ago.
Hokies guard Erick Green, the team’s leading scorer, can empathize. He went through similar struggles during his freshman campaign two years ago, finishing the season shooting 29 percent.
“Mine might have been worse. When I went in that slump, I didn’t score for a long time,” Green said. “By the end of the year, I didn’t get out of it. But I got back for my sophomore and just kept playing. Just as long as he keeps working, getting in the gym like he’s doing, there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a great player. He works hard. He’s gonna get through it.”
Greenberg certainly hasn’t given up on Finney-Smith either, re-inserting him into the starting lineup Thursday after coming off the bench at Maryland last weekend.
“I’m just telling you right now, one, the kid is one of the best kids I’ve ever coached. Ever. 35 years. Ever coached,” Greenberg said. “Number two, he’s gonna be really, really special, and I have no doubts in my mind about that. We’ve just got to help him through it and that’s part of coaching.”
At this point, now that any NCAA tournament aspirations have likely been shelved until next season, it’s the progress of players like Finney-Smith that will define whether the last month of this season is a success. It starts Saturday with a quick turnaround game at Cassell Coliseum against Clemson.
But maybe the most troubling part for Greenberg in all this is that Thursday night, “there were other things in terms of other guys that were just as big an issue as Doe.”